An empty bottle sat alone in the snow. Four of us stood in a row on the bridge staring down at its reflection in the sun. We were walking back with a few birds in hand after a morning of fowl hunting. We aimed, counted to three and fired at the shiny bottle in unison. Bang! A hole about the size of a car tire was punctured in the snow and ice-covered canal. The bottle was gone. Something was off. “That sounded weird and I felt something go right past my face,” said my friend standing closest to me.
Sure enough. The explosion from the 12-gauge shotgun felt strange when I pulled the trigger. It wasn’t a normal firing. Then, I saw the twisted and ripped metal at the end of the barrel. About three inches was blown off the end of the barrel. We were quick to realize that snow had likely plugged up the barrel. This was instantly humbling to realize how terrible the situation could have been had the discharge gone a little differently.
When was around 6 years old, my grandpa knelt down behind me and helped me aim and shoot his .22-caliber pistol. It was not too much longer when I got my first BB gun. Only one part of the local Big E store on Broadway in Blackfoot was worthwhile to a kid. The toy section was located in the basement. I had idolized the Daisy BB gun on several occasions and when I finally had one, I spent the next couple of summers chasing rodents around the sagebrush near our home.
When I was around 16, I started shooting my dad’s cowboy “six shooter” revolver at the farm. I loved that gun. There were many days I would practice shooting targets posted on hay bales and learning to reload and re-holster like a cowboy in the Wild West. Or so I thought. Learning at an early age to love and respect firearms was something we did. Having a gun was also a necessity at the farm and was used on more than one occasion to help protect the sheep from coyotes.
When I was in my junior year of college, I needed some more general credits and signed up for a pistol shooting class. That led to a niche interest in competitive shooting and an invite to participate on the University of Utah’s pistol shooting team. I have not practiced or competed a lot since my college days, but I have remembered many of the skills and techniques associated with handling and firing guns.
This week, as I have reflected on the aftermath of yet two more mind-numbing mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, I have been thinking about renewed efforts in Congress for “Reg flag” laws. These laws, also called “extreme risk protection orders” are supposed to help law enforcement remove guns from individuals who pose an imminent danger. Some support on this issue has already been shown by several Republican leaders.
States are also gearing up to take action and 17 already have some form of red flag laws, most passing since 2018 with the overwhelming majority of these states being Democrat-controlled. Two of the most disputed issues include expanding background checks to internet sales and gun shows and extending the period of time for the FBI to investigate after the background check system flags a would-be buyer. Versions less likely to receive bipartisan support include banning specific types of assault-style weapons.
Gov. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, rolled out a 17-point plan this week to reduce gun violence that would allow a judge to confiscate firearms from people who pose a threat to themselves or others, require background checks for all gun purchases and transfers with limited exceptions, while also strengthening penalties for gun crimes and increasing access to mental health treatment.
There are already staunch opponents to yet another form of taking guns away from anyone who has not been convicted of a crime. If Ohio and other states don’t act, I anticipate we will start seeing these issues presented to voters through the ballot initiative process.
I hold dear the uniqueness of our right to keep and bear arms in the United States. I also remain deeply concerned about the more common mass shooting events, but more so about the underbelly of our culture that is breeding this behavior. That is something a law alone cannot fix.
We each have to figure out how we can do something and point the finger back at ourselves to see if there is someone we can reach out to, someone we can help protect, and someone we support in ways we haven’t before. We all must be a little more kind, loving, tolerant, and compassionate to family, friends, neighbors and strangers.
And when you’re hunting in the winter, I recommend keeping your gun out of the snow.
Dustin Manwaring is a business and estate planning attorney in Pocatello and served in the Idaho Legislature from 2016-2018.